My sister taught me how to read. Sure, there were a long line of teacher lessons, flash cards and episodes of “Sesame Street” that primed me for the big moment, but those memories are vague and faded—mere baby steps on the grand journey to literacy. But I distinctly remember the day it “clicked.” I was sitting next to my sister on Mom’s beloved crescent-shaped sofa upholstered in “disco gold.” Jessica had checked out a book from the school library called The Monkey and the Bee and she announced that she could teach me how to read it.
At first, reading was like trying to push a baby stroller across dry sand. I’d get pissed, stop, rub my forehand and then start again. Meanwhile, Jessica looked patiently over my shoulder, helping only when I asked her to. Incessantly struggling to position herself as the “big sister”—a role I tried to deny her because of my sheer sibling orneriness—I could see she was giddy with excitement at my progress. I was excited, too—so much, that I was willing to let her have this big sister moment. About halfway through the book, I picked up speed, and by the end I was sailing with the ease of a little literati.
Years later, I would compare learning to read with learning to ride my bike. Dad was cool with Santa and the Easter Bunny, but he didn’t “believe in” God or training wheels. Consequently, I was a late bike bloomer. There came a point when it was more difficult to pretend not to know how to ride. All of the faculties where there—balance, strength, two legs—I just had to be brave enough to get on the dang thing. When I finally did, I struggled for a few blocks, and then I took off like a bat outta hell. I rode so fast and happy, gnats lodged in the corners of my eyes and the wind dried out my toothy grin.
It didn’t matter that other people had been riding for centuries. All that mattered was that I had finally joined the ranks, opening up a whole new world. The same applied to reading.
I was reminded of that pure, unadulterated feeling of complete accomplishment yesterday when Ava read her first book.
At bedtime, she abruptly snatched her new Tangled book from my hands and announced, “I want to read it.”
“Dude, we are reading it,” I said.
“No, I want to read it to you.”
Because I’m not one to encourage my child to spread her wings and fly, I hadn’t ever considered this possibility. (Likewise, my child didn’t crawl until 11 months old, something I may have to take some responsibility for.)
I put my inner overbearing teacher on hold and channeled my sister, sitting back and letting Ava work through every syllable. In the half hour it took her to get through 15 pages, she never got frustrated. She never gave up. At the end, she smiled widely at me, her eyes sparkling—I imagined I saw little gnats gathered in the corners.
“Let’s read it again!” she said.
She hasn’t stopped since. This afternoon she lounged on the sofa reading with a stack of books next to her. At dinner, she read two more books out loud as my husband and I ate. It’s incredible to watch. It’s exciting.
It’s something most of us take for granted. And, like most milestones, it’s a little bittersweet.
Off she goes, riding headfirst into the world with a big, semi-toothy grin.